4 Ways to Prepare for a Successful Student Teaching Experience

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Student teaching is one of the most exciting and unnerving undergraduate experiences. After years of dedicated study and day dreaming about the temporary inheritance of an actual classroom, you’re suddenly there amid a room full of students you don’t know very well, with the eyes of more experienced educators upon you.

No pressure, right?

It’s been more than twenty years since I was preparing for my own student teaching experience, but memories came rushing back to me this week as several student teachers attended the curriculum design sessions I was leading.

I was honored to have them there and impressed by their insights. Designing curricula beside the teachers who will mentor you is one way to prepare yourself for a successful student teaching experience. Consider the ideas that follow as well.

4 Ways to Prepare for a Successful Student Teaching Experience

1 – Assess the Needs and the Expectations of Those You Will Serve. Before you step in front of your first class, considering reaching out to the teacher who will mentor you in order to ask a few powerful questions. For instance:

  • How does the teacher assess students’ strengths and needs, and what is the evidence revealing?
  • Which needs are top priorities?
  • Which interventions seem to be working well?
  • Where is the teacher struggling to support learners most?
  • What are the teachers expectations for you and for your work with students?
  • How does the teacher define a successful student teaching experience, and how does this vision compare to your own?

Connect with your future students as well. Ask them what their strengths and needs are. Ask them what you can do in order to help them learn well. Get a sense of their expectations for you and for your work. Consider how you should respond to what you learn. Discuss this with your mentors.

2 – Plan Ahead. First things first: reach out to the teacher who will be mentoring you to inquire about the curricula you will address, the instructional strategies you will use, and how you will assess learning. Think carefully about classroom management, and ask the teacher who mentors you to coach you. Remember to use what you discover from your needs assessment work to inform what you do.

Consider planning ahead in a few other ways as well: 

  • Plan to take care of any impending medical appointments now. If you’re due for annual physicals, eye exams, or visits to the dentist, you’ll thank yourself later for scheduling them ahead of your student teaching experience. You’ll be busier than you anticipate. You’re going to be tired, too. 
  • Plan to take care of your mental health. Schedule time for exercise, relaxation, and socialization, and protect it fiercely. 
  • Plan your wardrobe. You will need to dress professionally and comfortably five days a week, and those days will likely be long ones. When you visit your placements to prepare for your student teaching experience, take note of how other teachers your age dress. Create a wish list, and shop smart. It makes sense to purchase an interview outfit at this time as well. Break it in during special events while you’re student teaching, and know that you’ll have one less thing to do when the inevitable phone call comes. Ditch your backpack and treat yourself to a sophisticated bag or briefcase. You’ll be toting home devices, books, papers, and projects each and every day. You’ve earned it.
  • Plan to document your learning and work. Capture photos of the displays you create, launch a professional blog, and plan to video tape selected lessons and conferences with students. Consider the usefulness of the technology tools you currently own, and determine what you may need to borrow or buy.

3 – Seek Feedback. Share your unit and lesson plans with experienced mentors, friends, and potential colleagues. Share them with students if you’re able to as well. Ask for specific feedback, and listen carefully to what is said. Before you begin building a professional wardrobe, consider curating some ideas on Pinterest, and seek input from experienced teachers about your choices too. They have perspectives that you may not, and this is a powerful thing.

4 – Live Like a Professional. Make the transition from student to student-teacher now, long before you’re tackling a 40+ hour work week. Start menu planning one week at a time, learn how to cook some healthy, simple meals, and throw a few in the freezer for your busiest days. Buy a lunch bag and reusable food containers. Establish fixed days for laundry and ironing, grocery shopping, errands, and bill paying. Adhere to that calendar, too.

Get to bed earlier, and read yourself to sleep. Purchase a few professional journals and books, and keep them close at hand. Start waking up earlier. Embrace breakfast. It will provide you much needed energy and the sort of patience that student teaching requires.

Organize your space. Find a place for everything, and put everything in its place.  You’ll appreciate all of these efforts later, when you aren’t arriving late to school soaking wet and starving because you couldn’t find an umbrella and your fridge is empty.

Like so many things, preparing for a successful student teaching experience involves seeking and sustaining balance. Balance is achieved through careful planning: plan ahead, dedicate time and space to all of the things that matter most in your life, and protect the boundaries between them.

Intend to be a successful student teacher, and it’s likely that you will be. You’ll also be ready to make the transition from student teacher to teacher easily, too.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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